Royal Visit Celebrates Heritage and Community

HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent with Peter Thorogood, Roger Linton, and The Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, opening the new King’s Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber

It is a bright early Summer afternoon as Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Kent opens the new King’s Garden in the company of the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, Peter Thorogood, Roger Linton and the volunteers at St Mary’s House and Gardens, Bramber. Heritage, hard work and community are affirmed and celebrated.

Peter Thorogood., MBE and Roger Linton., MBE, bought the house and gardens in 1984. Their passion for this wonderful place is infectious. They have created and gathered a community of people around the house and gardens. This team of volunteers have also offered their resources, time and talents to the repair, restoration and maintenance of this important house and garden.

Peter Thorogood has just celebrated his 90th birthday. I offer my congratulations on his birthday and work at St Mary’s. He responds self-effacingly noting the “hard work of the volunteers” and the camaraderie of all who have been involved in the house and gardens. These sentiments are echoed by Roger Linton who reflects upon how he gains such “pleasure from their pleasure”.

St Mary’s House and Gardens, Bramber

Whilst we await the arrival of the Princess I join the volunteers in the tea rooms. The great affection in which they hold Peter and Roger quickly becomes apparent. They clearly value the friendships and sense of community which underpins the work of St Mary’s.

HRH Princess Alexandra is shown around the house and gardens. She pauses in the Jubilee Garden to admire the Princess Alexandra of Kent roses and the Acer palmatum shindeshojo which has been planted to mark her visit.

A Boscobel Rose in The King’s Garden

The King’s Garden also shares a royal theme and has been designed by Roger Linton to commemorate Prince Charles, later Charles II’s escape through Bramber village to Brighton and then to Shoreham from where he would sail into exile in France. It is said that Charles eluded the Parliamentarian forces at both Houghton and Bramber by disguising himself as Colonel George Gunter’s servant and leading his horse. At the heart of The King’s Garden is a sapling oak whose lineage goes back to the famous Boscobel Oak in which Charles II hid after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

St Mary’s House and Gardens has a vital and continuing role in our community. Its story encompasses and tells the story of our county’s place in the history of our nation.

The vision, dedication, hard work and generosity of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton has permanently written their names into the story and history of this grand old house and her gardens.

These generous custodians have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and it is their intention that St Mary’s will remain accessible and at the heart of the local community for future generations.

St Mary’s House and Gardens, The Street, Bramber, BN44 3WE, are open to the public for the 2017 season. For further details of opening times, concerts and events visit www.stmarysbramber.co.uk or telephone 01903 816205.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

St Mary’s House Welcomes Visitors over the Centuries

As you walk up the garden path through the beautifully clipped topiary St Mary’s House reveals herself

As you walk up the garden path through the beautifully clipped topiary St Mary’s House reveals herself. The close set vertical timbers and contrasting white panels reflect the light with a particular quality.

St Mary’s captured the imaginations of her current custodians and patrons, Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton, who bought the house and gardens in 1984. They have worked tirelessly and invested constantly in the house and gardens which were in some disrepair when they took them on. It has always been their express wish to open them to the public.

Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton at work in the Library of St Mary’s House, Bramber

Their different gifts have blessed St Mary’s. Peter brought his experience at the British Council and his talents as a writer and researcher to the task of preserving St Mary’s. Roger, with a background in design seeded at the Royal College of Art, brought his skills as a conservator and set about restoring the property and designing the gardens. Peter’s love of music and theatre are given expression in the program of concerts and theatre which are also at the heart of St Mary’s life.

The house we see today incorporates the surviving wing from the late 15th century when William of Waynflete, the Bishop of Winchester, built a new Chapel House around a galleried courtyard. The house is a good example of the use of close set vertical timbers known as close studding which became widespread in Sussex at that time. The house would have originally welcomed pilgrims.

The Painted Room with trompe l’oeil panels which are believed to date from Tudor times

Although there is a grandeur to this wonderful old house it is very much a home informed by the passions and interests of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton. The collections and furniture speak of their lives, families and interests. I discover them at work in the Library. They tell me about the continuing challenges of restoring and preserving this important landmark in the history of Sussex. We walk along the landing as they speak passionately about the history of the house. I am always delighted by the Painted Room with its trompe l’oeil panels. Peter explains that they are thought to date from Tudor times. The panels have beautifully painted landscapes and sea-battle vignettes.

Over the years they have inspired a team of volunteers and friends to join them. Peter and Roger have a deep sense of dedication to this place and their vision to share St Mary’s with all of us. The care of St Mary’s has become a way of life for them and they deserve our thanks.

Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, St Mary’s has a particular gift of taking us out of the busyness of our own lives and allowing us to see ourselves in that broad procession of human history of which Sussex has so often been at the centre. St Mary’s House and Gardens are open to the public for the 2017 season. For further details of opening times, concerts and events visit www.stmarysbramber.co.uk.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

St Mary’s House, Hospitality over Centuries

St Mary’s House, Bramber
St Mary’s House, Bramber

Over the centuries people have journeyed along ancient Sussex lanes in the shadow of the Downs. These Pilgrim routes brought people to the important bridge at Bramber and to St Mary’s House and Gardens which still welcomes visitors today.

In Saxon and medieval times Steyning was an important port. The Adur estuary was much wider than it is today. In the late 11th century William de Braose had built the castle at Bramber to protect the estuary and town.

Rupert Toovey and the pilgrim’s bridge at St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Rupert Toovey and the pilgrim’s bridge at St Ives, Cambridgeshire

A great stone bridge, now lost, crossed the Adur. It was built with a chapel upon it. The Priory at Sele had responsibility for its upkeep and repair. The bridge at St Ives in Cambridgeshire was built in the 1420s. With its bridge chapel it allows us to glimpse what the bridge at Bramber may have looked like. The bridge at Bramber would have brought pilgrims to St Mary’s House. In those days this Hospitalier house would have provided rest and accommodation to travellers. The rooms were arranged around an enclosed courtyard. Visitors today can still see the east wing with its rare interiors, painted panels and collections. The house is a good example of the use of jettying. Technically and aesthetically it marked a significant development in vernacular architecture. The use of close set vertical timbers is known as close studding. This decorative type of construction became widespread in Sussex in the 15th century.

The Rose Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber
The Rose Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber

Thanks to the generosity of Peter Thorogood, who bought St Mary’s House in 1984, and Roger Linton, the house and gardens still offer great hospitality. They have spent more than 30 years conserving this remarkable house and creating a series of gardens.

From the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, roses have been associated with the veneration of Jesus Christ’s mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, after whom St Mary’s house is named. The rose garden at the house is at its best right now. The gardens, designed by Roger Linton and restored by an army of volunteers, gift us with space in the busyness of our modern lives, a generous punctuation mark – time to imagine and to be.

Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton are deserving of our thanks. These generous custodians have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and it is their intention that St Mary’s will remain accessible and at the heart of the local community for future generations.

St Mary’s House and gardens are open to the public throughout the summer season on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holiday Mondays. For further details go to www.stmarysbramber.co.uk or telephone 01903 816205.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

St Mary’s House and Garden

St Mary’s House, Bramber
St Mary’s House, Bramber

It is a bright spring evening as the Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex, Mrs Susan Pyper, leads a gathering of friends and supporters at St Mary’s House and gardens, Bramber. We have come together to celebrate thirty years of conservation and restoration led by Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton.

The paths to the house and gardens are lined with primroses, violets and forget-me-nots, proof that spring has finally arrived. Guests include those who have supported Peter and Roger over many years in their desire to preserve and share the delights of St Mary’s House, Bramber.

The house we see today incorporates the surviving wing from the late 15th century when William of Waynflete, the Bishop of Winchester, built a new Chapel House around a galleried courtyard. The house is a good example of the use of close set vertical timbers known as close studding which became widespread in Sussex at that time.

The vision, dedication, hard work and generosity of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton has permanently written their names into the story and history of this grand old house and her gardens. They have gathered a community of people around the house and gardens who have also offered their resources, time and talents to this project.

Susan Pyper at St Mary's House Bramber
Mrs Susan Pyper, The Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex, presenting Peter Thorogood, MBE, and Roger Linton, MBE, with a plaque commemorating 30 years of restoration and conservation at St Mary’s House and gardens

In the wonderful music room, with its large windows and gothic revival fireplace, Susan Pyper, The Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex, speaks affectionately of the pleasure of returning “to be amongst friends”. She thanks the Friends of St Mary’s House and all those who had played their part in this evolving project as supporters and donors. Turning her attention to Peter and Roger she praises them saying that their “generosity of spirit knows no bounds.” Mrs Pyper acknowledges St Mary’s House and gardens as “a jewel in the crown of West Sussex with an international reputation.” The charitable trust, set up to support the house and gardens for the public’s benefit, has given an Acer Palmatum de shojo. Susan Pyper presents Peter and Roger with a commemorative plaque to accompany the tree and occasion.

Peter Thorogood responds saying that St Mary’s, Bramber is “all about people”. He notes the “friendly atmosphere and generosity” of all who had been involved in the house and gardens. These sentiments are echoed by Roger Linton who, reflecting on the visitors before the reception, remarks upon how he gains such “pleasure from their pleasure”.

The Terrace Garden viewed through a wide stone arch
The Terrace Garden viewed through a wide stone arch

These generous custodians have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and it is their intention that St Mary’s will remain accessible and at the heart of the local community for future generations.

Peter and Roger’s work and aspirations give expression to a deep sense of calling and vocation to this place and their vision to share St Mary’s with all of us. These ambitions have been at the heart of their lives and work. They richly deserve our thanks.

Whether visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, St Mary’s, Bramber never fails to delight with its architecture, collections, gardens and sense of history. St Mary’s House and gardens opens to the public for the 2015 season this coming Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon, 3rd May, 2-6pm. For further details go to www.stmarysbramber.co.uk or telephone 01903 816205.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 29th April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

St Mary’s House, Bramber, Sussex

St Mary’s, Bramber, by Anthony Capo Bianco
St Mary’s, Bramber, photograph by Anthony Capo Bianco

With the exception of our churches, few buildings in Sussex reflect the rich tapestry of our county’s history over almost nine hundred years as well as St Mary’s House, Bramber.

Philip de Braose entered Jerusalem in 1099 to open up the Holy Places to Christian pilgrims. Out of this first crusade the Order of Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem was founded and on Philip’s death in 1125 his widow gave five acres of land to the Knights Templar. The house built there passed to the monks of Sele, whose parent abbey was in Samur, France. Despite the numerous pilgrims journeying on the routes to centres like Canterbury and Santiago de Compostela, by 1320 this monastic inn had fallen into disrepair. In about 1470 the Bishop of Winchester, William of Waynflete, built a new chapel house around a galleried courtyard. The origins of St Mary’s House, as we know it, are to be found in Waynflete’s work.

St Marys Bramber
Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton at the front of St Mary’s, Bramber

The fortunes of St Mary’s have continued to ebb and flow over time but this beautiful house and its grounds seem to have always found passionate and generous custodians at just the right time. In the 20th century St Mary’s found herself once again in disrepair and in 1941 was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to house soldiers, including the men from the Royal Canadian Artillery. In 1944 St Mary’s was put up for auction at the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton. By chance, Miss Dorothy Ellis spotted the advert and, against the advice of friends, determined to attend the sale. Miss Ellis was successful in her bidding, preventing a local builder from acquiring St Mary’s to demolish the house for her timbers! Miss Ellis did all in her power to preserve St Mary’s and ensured that it became Grade I listed.

In 1984 St Mary’s, yet again in some disrepair, found herself up for sale once more. On this occasion the house captured the imaginations of her current custodians and patrons, Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton, who purchased St Mary’s with the express wish to keep it open to the public. Their different gifts have blessed St Mary’s. Peter brought his experience at the British Council and his gifts as a writer and researcher to the task of preserving St Mary’s. Roger, with a background in design seeded at the Royal College of Art, brought his gifts as a conservator and set about restoring the property and designing the gardens. Peter’s love of music and theatre are given expression in the program of concerts and theatre which are at the heart of St Mary’s life.

These generous custodians have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and this is reflected in the extraordinary community of gifted volunteers and Friends of St Mary’s, who have joined with Peter and Roger in their work. “They are our St Mary’s family,” Peter reflects.

St Marys Bramber Drawing Room
The Drawing Room, furnished with Peter’s and Roger’s own furniture and memories

It is quickly apparent that Peter and Roger are rooted in this place. Peter says, “We were both fascinated by timber-framed houses, even as boys.” Roger interjects, “We both knew this house as boys, thanks to our parents. I used to visit with my father, a Methodist minister, when we went to Steyning, which was part of his circuit.” I comment that there is a real quality of calling and vocation apparent in their life and work at St Mary’s. Peter’s face breaks into a smile and he replies, “Yes, calling and vocation in looking after the house, this place, its history and the people St Mary’s gathers. It’s always been for the benefit of others, the public, as well as ourselves.”

The Painted Room St Marys Bramber
The Painted Room with trompe l’oeil panel believed to date from Tudor times. The panels have landscape and sea-battle vignettes. Note also the wonderful 16th century ‘Nonsuch chest’, marquetry-inlaid with architectural panels

Although there is a grandeur to this wonderful old house, it is very much a home, informed by the passions and interests of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton. They have not only preserved and restored this important landmark in the history of Sussex but also kept it alive, inspiring a team of volunteers and friends to join them in their adventure. Peter and Roger have a deep sense of dedication to this place and their vision to share St Mary’s with all of us. It has become their lives over the past thirty years and they deserve our thanks. Whether visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, St Mary’s has a particular gift of taking us out of the business of our own lives and allowing us to see ourselves in that broad procession of human history of which Sussex has so often been at the centre. St Mary’s House and Gardens opens to the public for the 2014 season this coming Sunday afternoon, 4th May, from 2pm to 6pm. For further details visit www.stmarysbramber.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 30th April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.